Sunderland slumped to their third defeat in a row at WBA thanks to a Romelu Lukaku brace. Here is what we made of it.
What The Gaffer Said
It was a bullish and upbeat Martin O'Neill that safc.com caught up with after the game.
I thought we should have got something from the game; we created a lot of chances.
We conceded a goal from a penalty and the second [goal] was bizarre.
We didn't have a great deal of luck in and around the penalty area ourselves and we should have taken more from what Stephane Sessegnon created. He scored a great goal himself.
Stephane was excellent today; top-quality in the second half.
I thought we should have had a penalty kick just before half time, but it wasn't given.
For the second goal Titus [Bramble] should have seen the ball out instead of playing it blindly back to the goalkeeper - the clearance has hit the player and it's in the back of the net.
That was obviously a major setback at that stage of the game, but we got back into it and still had enough chances to get an equaliser, which I think we would have deserved, without doubt.
We had a couple of good chances at the end. It's really disappointing. We came here with confidence following the Arsenal game two weeks ago.
We should have capitalised on the chances we created.
It wasn't the most inspiring performance but I can see some justification for O'Neill's comments.
WBA certainly had the better of open play, but Sunderland hit the post, had a very strong penalty claim turned away, and missed a couple of big chances towards the end. On the balance of chances, we probably should have taken something from the game.
We do this feature every week and we very seldom even mention the ref, let alone complain about him, but this week it is difficult to not mention him.
I have absolutely no problem if he wants to deem the ball striking Gardner's hand in the box a penalty kick. Fair enough. The handball rule is ambiguous to say the least.
But the fact remains that IF that was deemed a handball, then Adam Johnson's near-identical penalty claim just before half time has to be as well.
Personally, I suspect that he was more inclined to give the WBA one due to seeing them put the ball in the net seconds after he stopped play to award them a free kick. He was ‘evening things up'. It is just about the only explanation I can fathom.
Battered Bramble Breaks
I felt a bit sorry for Titus Bramble in a sense. I certainly wouldn't want to face Romelu Lukaku on that kind of form and you'd have to doff your cap and say that the Belgian Behemoth absolutely bossed it.
It was probably fitting that the moment he broke and gifted Lukaku the second goal proved to be the decisive moment of the game because in many ways that battle was the key one.
I didn't feel sufficient sympathy for Bramble to brush it under the carpet and move on without comment, though. At the end of the day, he wasn't beaten for skill, physically overpowered, or simply outclassed. He just lost his concentration and did something stupid.
That last sentence sums up his entire career and demonstrates precisely why he cannot be relied upon and should form no part of the club's future beyond this summer.
Early Graham/Fletcher Impressions
It is difficult to take too much from one game together, but the early signs look promising enough.
The way they combined for Fletcher's shot that bounced off the post was probably pretty close to how Martin O'Neill envisages the partnership working, with Graham occupying defenders allowing Fletcher to get more time and space facing the goal.
Moving forward, who knows what will happen. The system may well change next week again and a new dynamic being discussed here. I won't mind that - so long as they continue to start games together.
Wide Players Criticized, But...
Some of the most vehement criticisms from Saturday from fans was reserved for the wide players, particularly Adam Johnson who failed to really get into the game. I think some of it is reasonable enough. We do need more from Johnson.
That said, if the flanks are to be utilized properly then they have to be considered a partnership between wingers and full backs, and the latter just don't do enough to help.
I appreciate Colback and Gardner are not natural full backs and they are doing their best for the team, but such a simple thing as getting themselves around the outside on the overlap of their wingers just running a man away would make such a big difference.
Neither are great athletes and both are probably worried about an inability to get back should the play break down. If you want to see the difference that full backs can make though you just have to look at the difference in Sessegnon's game against Arsenal when he was switched to the left with Danny Rose behind him.
So we can criticize the wingers all we want, but the fact remains that until the full back positions are addressed, we will never see the best of them no matter who they are.